Feet also make music in Subject:Matter’s “Songbook” at Somerville Theater
Maure Aronson, director of artistic programs for Global Arts Live, calls it “an uplifting, visceral, auditory experience” that illuminates the band’s roots in tap dancing traditions, paying special homage to Boston’s tap dancing history.
Berg, who teaches at Emerson College and Tufts University, says it’s also about pushing the art form into the future. “Much of our work is rooted in historical context, but plays on expectation. We pay homage to the dancers who came before us, but we also make sure people understand that tap dancing is happening now, looking to the future.
Although the band has performed “Songbook” numerous times, Berg says the show evolves with each iteration, and this time has special significance: It’s the collaborative’s first live indoor show in nearly two years. years, so artists are particularly keen to reconnect with the energy of in-person performance. They plan to incorporate some of the audio from the live concert into newly recorded tracks for an album of “Songbook” material. (There’s a surprisingly solid history of jazz tap as an audio recording, says Berg.)
“The dancers kind of become the horn player, stepping forward to take a solo,” says the show’s musical director, bassist Max Ridley. “Their sound palette is as wide as a trumpet or a horn – it’s crazy how many sounds each person can get from the shoes on the floor. … Everyone’s voice is so unique, [yet] the six of us kind of build this cohesive organism, and when we land on the same thing, it’s like ‘Whoa!’
The first part of the concert will feature a selection of familiar standards, from “Mack the Knife” to “Have You Met Miss Jones”. “Much of today’s music comes from this repertoire,” says Ridley. “It’s really exciting to see [it] presented in an accessible and fun way.
Berg adds, “A big part of maturing in tap is working with jazz standards. We thought the premise of this show was that we looked like any other jazz band, but there are three tap dancers as the featured soloists. After the intermission, it’s all improvisation, with dancers and musicians sparking inspiration in the moment, engaging in a fluid, floating back-and-forth.
Berg calls the musicians a dream trio that really loves tap dancing. “They are so good at listening to us and anticipating where we want to go, hearing what comes out of our feet. It’s like building energy together. It’s extremely collaborative. It’s fun to play against each other and stuff we all know.
This knowledge base is at the heart of Subject:Matter, which since its founding in 2015 has created and performed nearly 20 different pieces in more than 50 venues in the United States and Canada, including the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Jacob’s Pillow and the Montreal Fringe Festival.
Berg is the driving force behind the group. He has training and performance experience not only in tap dancing, which he began at the age of 7, but also in ballet, modern dance, jazz and contact improvisation, and he holds a Bachelor of Contemporary Dance from the Boston Conservatory. He also has musical skills, playing in his high school jazz band and orchestra as well as composing. But he says that in college he realized the only thing he wanted to do was type. “I wanted to combine dance and music, and it was tap dancing, and the history and the culture and the people you meet are so wonderful,” he says. “What really drives me is that I love tap dancing and I love the people I work with, and we love having fun on stage together.”
Berg also cites his longtime teacher, pioneering tap master Dianne Walker, as a major inspiration. Walker remembers Berg as a precocious 12-year-old, his attentiveness and drive standing out. Now she trusts him to help her preserve the legacy of her teacher, the late tap-dancing innovator Leon Collins, and says his knowledge of music theory is so deep that she often asks him to explain concepts. music to his classes. She also praises his versatility. “Ian’s dance is a musically sophisticated blend of influences and styles,” she says. “He can dig as well as he can lie down and swing.”
“Songbook” showcases this versatility and shines a light on how much today’s tap scene relies on the work of dance pioneers. “It seems important not just to make it as it was, but to bring it to what it can be,” says Berg. “And I want to make it readable, so everyone can come away loving and understanding tap dancing.”
GLOBAL ARTS LIVE PRESENTS SUBJECT:MATTER
Crystal Ballroom at the Somerville Theater on February 5.
Tickets $28-$35, www.globalartslive.org
Karen Campbell can be reached at [email protected]